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Women scientists are less likely than men to submit papers to high-impact journals

Survey finds fewer submissions to Nature, Science, and PNAS

by Dalmeet Singh Chawla, special to C&EN
August 31, 2023 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 101, Issue 29


A woman looking away from the camera in a laboratory.
Credit: Shutterstock
Women report submitting fewer scientific papers to top journals than men do.

Women scientists are significantly less likely than men to submit papers to the prestigious journals Nature, Science, and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), a new large-scale survey has found.

The survey, completed by more than 4,857 scientists, found that only 37% of women report submitting papers to Nature, Science, and PNAS, compared with almost 49% of men. The results were published on bioRxiv—a site where biologists post papers without peer review—on Aug. 22.

According to the survey, women are more likely than men to suggest that their work is not groundbreaking or novel enough to submit to high-impact journals, which typically have high rejection rates and include novelty as a criterion for acceptance.

“Men are more likely to take risks and submit not only their best work, but actually any work, to these top three journals,” says study coauthor Vincent Larivière, who is an information scientist at the University of Montreal. Overall, he adds, it seems women are more self-critical and have higher standards for what constitutes novel research.

Previous studies indicate that men cite their own papers significantly more than women do, women underrate their own contributions to academic papers, and male academics have a greater propensity to hype their own findings. Past literature also indicates that women are traditionally underrepresented in high-impact journals.

It’s also the case that women are less often advised by supervisors to publish in high-impact journals, Larivière says. “They are not receiving encouragement to go for it,” he says. “I don’t necessarily know why.” Larivière speculates that it has to do with differences in the way the work of women and men are treated.

Flaminio Squazzoni, a sociologist who studies peer review at the University of Milan, says he is not surprised by the survey findings. His 2021 study on journal submissions during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic found that women are underrepresented in all journals across all disciplines, regardless of the titles’ perceived impact or prestige.

Squazzoni says he thinks the status quo is changing and that the publishing system is starting to become fairer. But he doesn’t think gender quotas would be a good way to introduce parity while maintaining quality.

In recent years, academics have voiced concerns about incentives in academia and argued for a fairer research environment with less emphasis on publishing papers in flashy, high-profile titles.

“The current research system, which emphasizes publication and citation, is detrimental to women because they are not well evaluated using those indicators,” Larivière says. “These indicators are globally biased against them.”


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